I’ve been absent for a while again as I’ve been working through quite a few emotional matters. Apart from my earlier fall and the death of my dog, Ziggy, I also found out recently that a good friend from my early days in Australia had died a while back from cancer. I found out quite by chance and I was really upset as I had such good memories of him, my time in the student political movement and the freedom I felt to be me when I moved to Australia.
I have also been dealing with how I felt after reading a report about Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) and how these affect us physically and emotionally in our adult life. I’ve mentioned this previously and, as I said then, I felt like I’d been punched in the guts the first time I read about this as it explained a whole heap about my weight issues and also other health challenges I’ve faced such as repetitive strain injury, depression and fibromyalgia.
While I’ve written about this in earlier posts, I talked more about circumstances and emotional effects, than the physical effects. To be honest, I don’t think I could have handled this before, it’s something I’ve shoved under the carpet or down in the cellar. But I think it’s important to write about how early childhood experiences have affected me, in the hope it may be of help to others for whom my experiences resonate, particularly because there is such an upsurge in autoimmune diseases as well as fibromyalgia (which still doesn’t seem to have a particular explanation for its existence, despite various stabs at diagnoses).
As I mentioned above, I felt like I was flying when I arrived in Australia. I’d felt pretty much the same sense of freedom when I was at university, no-one was controlling me and I was running my own life pretty competently, and in both instances – particularly when I’d split up with the guy I’d travelled to Australia with – I was extremely slim. I remember when I got the letter from my parents saying they were coming out for a holiday that my first response was: “Oh, god, I can never get away from them.” When I met my mum and dad at Perth Airport, I sat there sneezing like the clappers, with my eyes and nose running like a sieve. I remember a little boy on a seat near more watching in amazement as I went through tissue after tissue. It was all emotional, of course, but I had no idea what was going on at the time.
In early 1976 I broke up with Jack, the guy with whom I’d travelled to Australia, and I was really on my own. I loved it. My weight dropped rapidly and, when I went back to the office where I used to work, no-one recognised me as I’d got so much slimmer. I do have to say that I in a sexually inappropriate way over the next couple of years – I went through men like they were going out of fashion – the best bit being that I could say good-bye and toddle off to my lovely unit all on my own. Again, this is one of the behaviours which can arise from adverse childhood experiences. All I can say is I’m damned lucky that I didn’t contract a sexually transmitted disease, someone in the world of spirit must have been looking out for me!
And then on April 16th, 1977, I went out to meet a friend for a drink and came home with my future husband. My friend had introduced us, sparks flew, we held hands as we went for a meal with mutual friends, and Bryan came home with me, moved in that night and 38 years later we are still together. We did take a while to do the married bit – we finally tied the knot in the UK in 2004 after living there for a couple of years and getting married a few days before we returned to Australia.
Bryan and I were both very independent people, and we certainly didn’t live in each other’s pockets. We both followed progressive politics as he was a union activist, shop steward and safety officer. I continued a rather lunatic student activist lifestyle, even though I say it myself, until my parents emigrated to Australia in early 1978. And my weight piled on again.
Over the years I’ve dealt with the issues I had mainly with my father. After an incident when I was about 5’ish and got a hiding from my father over a very minor issue, now I look back, he would regularly accuse me of being a liar right through childhood or tell me “I’ll put you over my knee and give you a tanning” if he thought I was misbehaving in any way. He was a real control freak. As I wrote previously, until I was around 14 and, when he pulled that trick one last time, I looked him in the eye and told him if he touched me in any way I’d walk out and they’d never see me again. It worked. I’ve repeated it because I think it’s such an important lesson I’ve learned over the years – you have to stand up to a bully or they’ll keep on hammering you if they think they’ve managed to intimidate you.
However, I really hadn’t twigged that the control issues from my childhood and teenage years actually affected my health. I had a couple of events in the early 1980s – I had acute appendicitis and bled badly during the operation, spent a few days on morphine, getting blood transfusions and now have a 13 inch scar on my lower belly. A bit later I was working for a conservation organisation where we used to print an independent environmental magazine. You had to fix a metal plate onto hooks and then wind the plate onto the cylinder. Unfortunately, one day the person the other side switched on the machine as I was putting a plate onto the cylinder, my fingers were caught on the metal hooks and then fed into the machine. I ended up with two broken and badly lacerated fingers, lost the feeling at the ends of my fingers after I’d been stitched up but, luckily, finally got feeling back a few months later.
What really brought me to a grinding halt, however, was getting repetitive strain injury in my right shoulder and left arm in the mid-1980s. I ended up getting invalided out of the workforce in excruciating pain, and told I’d never work on a keyboard again. I’m going to go into the details in my next post, but it occurred to me – on reading about the ACE study – that I’d ended up tied up in knots physically as a result of being a Type A personality, tense, always doing more than I needed to, in order to be the best and get approval – the approval I never got from my father.
More on that in my next post when I’ll look at all the alternative healing methods I adopted in order to manage my health challenges.
much of it wasted on wrong turns,
back roads riddled by ruts.
I had adventures
I never would have known
if I proceeded as the crow flies.
Super highways are so sure
of where they are going:
they arrive too soon. A straight line isn’t always
the shortest distance
between two people.
Sometimes I act as though
I’m heading somewhere else
I narrow the gap between you and me.
I’m not sure I’ll ever
know the right way, but I don’t mind
getting lost now and then.
Maps don’t know everything.
This post has been a long time in the making because I’ve been bogged down with sciatica again. It’s thrown my sleep patterns out, left me feeling very tired and also lethargic and aimless. So I decided to go with the flow, simply tread water and wait until I felt the urge to start writing again. Which is now. And at the same time, I’ve decided to make space for new adventures in my life by getting rid of all the shelving with my crystals on and storing all my crystals in my cupboard space. I’m focusing on my art and writing my book as blog.
New beginnings, new paths, new energy. I probably needed the break to process where I really want to work in my life right now. So now on to my adventures with Women’s Liberation in the early 1970s.
I had my teenage rebellion in my ‘twenties when I moved to Australia. Until then I’d pretty much been Ms Goody-Two-Shoes, not rocking the boat, head down and studying assiduously to get a good degree as I was the first in our family to go to university, and fairly conservative. At least, that’s the image that I have of myself but I’ve been interested to catch up with old friends from my University days who see me quite differently – organised, organising people and quite adventurous. Weird how you see yourself and how others see you!
I guess working on a kibbutz in Israel, which is what I did prior to travelling to Australia in 1972, and then hopping off Downunder could be considered quite adventurous although at the time it just seemed to me that both were interesting things to do. Perhaps I also did this bit of travelling as I had no idea of my direction in life. In fact, I never did find a direction until my mid-fifties – late starter, you might say!
I began throwing over the traces with gusto when I joined the Australian Union of Students as the organiser for Western Australia and subsequently got involved with Women’s Liberation. I had seen a news report of women in the movement handing out contraceptive advice at secondary school gates and it interested me.
Why did I become interested in Women’s Liberation?
It’s so easy to forget what life was like for women back in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, so here are a few reminders that Women’s Libbers rocked the boat because women:
• Were denied equal pay
• Were clustered in low paying work
• Were paid less for the same work done by men
• Weren’t allowed to open their own bank accounts without permission from their husband, boyfriend or father.
• Couldn’t get a mortgage as a single woman.
• Were victimized all too often if they were raped, labeled as the “temptress”, “seductress”, or whatever, because rape wasn’t recognized as an act of violence.
• Had to leave the public service when they married.
• Had to leave the workforce when they had children.
• Had to leave the workforce when menfolk came back from war and wanted the jobs (see the move Rosie the Riveter and a documentary about women pilots in World War II flying planes around the UK to the various aerodromes where they were needed)
• Were invisible in history, the media and film. Apart from a few odd exceptions like Katherine Hepburn, women were pretty much bitches (Betty Davis) or goddesses up on a pedestal (June Allyson)
• Were sex objects
• Were forced to resort to illegal abortions because of unwanted pregnancies, often dying dreadful deaths from scepticaemia.
• Were vilified if they chose to have an abortion despite the vast majority of women agonizing over such a choice.
• Were denied free, safe contraception and planned parenthood.
• Had enormous difficulties accessing advanced education
• Were going off their rocker in the suburbs with frustration and boredom.
And we in Women’s Liberation were impolite, rowdy, feisty, hollering, rollicking, loud, raucous, marching, holding demonstrations, rejecting ideas of being “nice” and “lady-like”, and standing together in large numbers to organise for women’s right to be treated with respect, dignity and equality.
This is one of the songs from those time:
“Don’t be too polite, girls, don’t be too polite,
Show a little fight girls, show a little fight,
Don’t be fearful of offending, in case you get the sack
Just recognize your value and we won’t look back.
All among the bull, girls, all among the bull,
Keep your hearts full, girls, keep your hears full
What good is a man as doormat, or following at heel?
It’s not their balls we’re after, it’s a fair square deal.”
In early 1978 I went on a tour to China just as it was opening up. We visited a women’s brigade on an oil field in Shandong Province (one of the coldest places I’ve ever been by the way!). The women’s brigade was set up as Chinese leaders in the oil industry found that men looked down on women workers and sidelined them. So the aim of the women’s brigade was to encourage emancipation in the industry and self-respect among the women workers.
We sang the above song to them, and they sang back women’s revolutionary songs to us. Our interpreters told the Chinese women the meaning of our song, and then translated the Chinese songs to us. We had a wonderful time, laughing, singing, talking (via our interpreters) and shaking hands when we left with many waves as our mini-bus drove away from the oilfield.
“Don’t be too polite, girls” is a fighting song from the history of working women in Australia. I use the term “fighting” deliberately, because we women have never been handed our gains on our plate. We’ve had to organize, fight and stand together as sisters to achieve anything. I don’t ever want young women to forget that because, as a young woman myself, I stood on the shoulders of the mothers, sisters, grandmothers and great-grandmothers before me who took action, in big and small ways, to advance women’s interests, including the right to vote. And I honour and remember them with pride.
Jack and I arrived in Australia in 1972 a month or so before the Whitlam government was elected. This was the government of the Australian Labor Party and its ascent to power came after the Liberal-Country Party coalition had been in office since 1949. We knew stuff-all about Australian politics but, nevertheless, when we listened to the L-CP advertisements on radio with their “reds under the beds” theme, it was like leaping back a few decades. We’d look at each other and mutter “Blimey, they’re a paranoid bunch” when these crazy-sounds ads for the L-CP came on without understanding that the L-CP had relied on the “reds under the bed” them to stay in office in the decades since 1949.
When the Whitlam government came into office, we really had no idea of the upheaval such a government would unleash. It undertook quite revolutionary action which left the conservative Establishment beside itself with rage and determined to restore what the L-CP believed was its right to rule which had, in the 1972 election, been usurped by a bunch of upstarts.
If you’re wondering why I’m commenting on this, it’s because, once we decided to stay in Australia, I got caught up in the excitement of the early Whitlam years when great social change took place, particularly to the benefit of women and Aboriginal people.
Those who may have read that the Whitlam years were ones of complete chaos may be a bit surprised to read anything good about the return of the ALP to office in Australia. But history, as they say, is written by the victors and the conservative forces in Australia have done their best to portray the years of Whitlam rule as chaotic, unhinged and run by a bunch of ignorant nutters. In the process, they’ve carefully played down the way in the conservative Establishment in Australia set out to undermine and, ultimately, knock off what seemed at the time a quite revolutionary Labor government. In this the forces of reaction were helped by the fact that the Senate was controlled by the L-CP which did its best to obstruct legislative measures by the Labor-controlled Federal Parliament and eventually refused to pass supply bills which provided for government expenditure..
To give you some idea of the upheaval in the very staid, stiff upper-lip approach of former conservative governments, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia which shows a little of the gusto with which the new government started out in office:
“On 5 December, once Labor’s win was secure, Whitlam had the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck, swear him in as Prime Minister and Labor’s deputy leader, Lance Bernard, as deputy prime minister. The two men held 27 portfolios during the two weeks before a full cabinet could be determined.
During the two weeks the so-called “duumvirate” held office, Whitlam sought to fulfill those campaign promises that did not require legislation. Whitlam ordered negotiations to establish full relations with the People’s Republic of China, and broke those with Taiwan. Legislation allowed the Minister for Defence to grant exemptions from conscription. Barnard held this office, and exempted everyone. Seven men were at that time incarcerated for refusing conscription; Whitlam arranged for their freedom. The Whitlam government in its first days re-opened the equal pay case pending before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and appointed a woman, Elizabeth Evatt, to the commission. Whitlam and Barnard eliminated sales tax on contraceptive pills, announced major grants for the arts, and appointed an interim schools commission. The duumvirate barred racially discriminatory sport teams from Australia, and instructed the Australian delegation at the United Nations to vote in favour of sanctions on apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It also ordered home all remaining Australian troops in Vietnam, though most (including all conscripts) had been withdrawn by McMahon.”
The Whitlam government appointed a women’s advisor, established universal health care, eliminated military conscription and criminal excusion, set up fee-free university education, implemented legal aid programmes, gave legal recognition to de facto relationships, and recognised Aboriginal land rights. Other measures were introduced but just these few gives you some idea of the sweeping changes implemented by Whitlam’s government. Those were heady days!
I have to be honest and say that in our early days in Australa a lot of this went over my head as we simply enjoyed our hedonistic holiday in Australia, with work and good pay, a fantastic climate, partying and making new friends. In 1973 we intended to book a cruise home to the UK and resume our normal lives. But in that year, as we were sorting out what cruise line to use to return home, my mother wrote and told us to stay in Australia for the time being. She said that there were strikes, a 3-day working week, power cuts and very few job vacancies. She told me years later that it was one of the hardest letters she ever wrote but, ironically, it was the decision to extend our stay which saw us loosen our ties with the UK and settle down in our new country.
In the days of the “Ten pound Poms”, people could pay £10 for travel to Australia, but they had to stay for two years. In those two years, your ties with friends back in the UK tended to die away because there was no internet, no e-mail and no Skype. You’d start making friends in the new country and get more settled. Which is exactly what happened to me and to Jack.
We got to know people, made friends and developed a social life. I enjoyed my work but, as time wore on, I became restless, particularly as we were staying longer than expected. I’ve always been the same. As soon as I’ve mastered a job, I get bored and want another challenge. I tried to move to being a storekeeper at the engineering company I worked for, but was passed over for someone who, truth be told, had more qualifications than I ever would have.
And finally I threw in the towel after a dust-up with one of the salesmen. He had written a draft letter which I automatically translated into better, grammatical language. He was beside himself at the changes and ordered me to type his original letter. I refused and told him it was load of old cobblers. Eventually, the acting boss at the time backed the salesman, although someone else did type the letter, but I knew my time there was limited. And I remember the acting boss saying to me: “You’ll leave now, won’t you?” And I nodded. He said: “I’m sorry, I had no choice, but in any case you’re too intelligent to stay here for long.”
I ended up applying for two positions, a secretarial job with a petroleum exploration company and one as an organiser for Western Australia with the Australian Union of Students. The secretarial job was the safe, predictable and conventional job. It also had higher pay. The AUS job was unconventional and meant a pay cut. Jack didn’t go too much on the pay cut but, for the first time, I struck out on my own and stood firm. My intuition was working overtime (although I didn’t know anything about intuition in those days), so I took a punt and went for the AUS job. It was a big unknown, working as the union organiser in Western Australia. I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do. All I knew was that it looked incredibly interesting and it seemed to call to me. I did actually get the secretarial job and turned it down. They begged me to take the position but I refused. It was a big risk as I hadn’t actually got the AUS job. But somehow I knew that I couldn’t take conventional work any more. The excitement and exhilaration of the Whitlam changes had infected me too and I was eager to head in new directions.
I got the job and it was a turning point for me. While I may have had illusions that I was the best candidate, I found out later that I’d been picked because the only other person in the running was a member of the Communist Party. So I was the lesser of two evils, if I can put it like that. As I said, I actually had no idea whatsoever what a union organiser was supposed to do. I faked it big-time at the interview. The final question asked by the interviewing committee was to summarise why I was the best candidate. I knew what the question was going to be because I’d eavesdropped on the previous candidate. I told them that now they’d interviewed me, they knew I was the best of the lot. It caused a laugh but actually I gave that response because I had no idea what else to say and it worked quite successfully as a diversion from my absolute ignorance about the work involved.
And so I quit my job at the engineering office and jumped feet first into my new work as the organiser in Western Australia for the Australian Union of Students. I felt like I’d come alive and I really came out of the closet once I started this work! I had somehow always felt drawn to the path of service, but not in a family setting. For me, work outside the home had always been the priority and the work with AUS was right up my alley although I had never realised it before. I loved the political atmosphere and, at the time, I felt that politics was the way to serve.